Hoophall West featured some of the top high school basketball players in the country.
Stars from the class of 2020 faced off and LaMelo Ball took center stage in front of a crowd that overflowed from the bleachers.
Here are some takeaways from the performances of the first two days.
Watson the facilitator
Four-star Anton Watson of Gonzaga Prep (Spokane, Wash.) represents the current evolution of big men taking shape in the NBA.
A no-look pass while he dribbled into the paint. A dart between two defenders at the top of the key to an open man down low.
Listed at 6-foot-10, Watson brings more than just a strong post presence. His passing and ball handling abilities give him a shot to be something special.
Of all the bigs at Hoophall West, he looks like he has the most potential to take on a ball handling role at the next level. At the very least, he can become a facilitator like Al Horford or Nikola Jokic who make passes to teammates anywhere from the top of the key to the post.
“I kind of see myself as like a Ben Simmons, as like, a tall guard.” Watson said. “I love to pass.”
He showed skill as a facilitator and at times was even the primary ball handler.
“I haven’t been doing it much often, but now that I’ve been working on my game and my guard skills, it’s come a lot easier,” Watson said. “I like it.”
That’s the next step for him in his development. Once he feels comfortable with the ball in his hands and shooting, he can become a true force. Gonzaga awaits.
The Mobley towers
It’s not just that Isaiah and Evan Mobley are taller than everyone.
It’s not just that they move well.
“Most of our guards just send them to the paint,” Evan said. “When they’re giving them the pressure, they drop off so that we can alter or block their shots.”
One guard slipped past Isaiah in the corner, but Evan swatted the shot the ground.
The two combined for 15 blocked shots on Friday, according to Burlison on Basketball.
At one point, it looked like Isaiah went straight up but got whistled for the foul. As a timeout was called after, he spoke to the ref about what he did wrong and seemed to be mimicking a ball handler lowering his shoulder into an invisible defender.
The two are versatile and quick and can move their bodies well. With both Mobleys on the court at the same time, one brother can step out to defend a player on the perimeter, which they’re both capable of.
Sure, they know how to block.
But more importantly, they know how to defend.
LaMelo and SPIRE’s swag
SPIRE Institute (Geneva, Ohio) is a perfect team for LaMelo Ball to rejoin high school hoops.
He’s a masterful passer and a flashy player.
Sometimes, that flash lacks substance.
Ball would play-up pass-ins. He often went to acrobatic lengths to avoid contact on drives instead of drawing the foul. It was a pretty play, the crowd would gasp, but the layup would often fail to fall.
Nevertheless, he finished with 18 points and 10 assists. His style of play goes perfectly with SPIRE, a free-moving team that outplays their opponents with energy, hustle and a certain swagger.
“LaMelo came in, we jelled together quickly,” forward Myron Gardner said.
SPIRE took a large lead over Bella Vista Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.) by playing fast on offense, pressing the full length of the court on defense and making Bella Vista play to their speedy tempo. SPIRE took control despite missing a fair amount of shots.
They were often ready for offense rebounds. Ball had a couple put-back dunks, and Gardner soared in for a handful more.
“You just play hard,” Gardner said. “A lot of effort, you get a lot of easy points.”
As the game wound down and SPIRE was up by about 20, they continued to push the pace and run in transition.
On one two-on-zero fast break late, a SPIRE player bounced the ball hard off the ground so the dunker could catch it mid-air for an alley-oop.
“We’ve got a lot of chemistry with each other,” Gardner said. “We play to each other’s strengths.”
SPIRE is an odd team to watch. It’s not the most beautiful brand, but it’s a very fun one, and it’s perfect for the circus-like environment the Big Baller Brand brings along.
Nico brought his best against the best
The hype for Nico Mannion is real.
He drains threes at a high level. His passing ability is already near the top of the chart. He’s at his best when he drives to the lane, attracts the attention of three defenders and can throw a cross-court pass to an open teammate.
And he lives for the spotlight.
On ESPN+, he took on 2020 No. 2 Chosen 25 Jalen Green and won, putting up 33 points and 12 assists, according to the Arizona Republic.
He and Green went back-and-forth, with Mannion hiting 12 of the first 17 points for Pinnacle as Green made the first 11 (and, eventually, the first 18) for San Joaquin Memorial (Calif.), but Pinnacle pulled away.
“They’re always a point to prove. We wanted to go at each other and just have fun,” Mannion said. “Playing against the best players brings the best out of you … A big stage, great players, it’s fun.”
With all the talent at the tournament, it’s hard to know who’s for real and who’s just a great high school player.
But Mannion, who reclassified from 2020 to 2019, looks like a sure bet.
We won’t have to wait long to find out.
He headlines Arizona’s No. 1 recruiting class.
Guyer is at its best when using its depth
De’Vion Harmon is a four-star Oklahoma commit who always seems to be the best player on the court.
The ball runs through him. He’s aggressive and unafraid of contact.
Yet the team seems to be flowing smoothest when the team takes advantage of the depth.
Last week, Guyer (Denton, Texas) lost a game in overtime. Harmon said the team didn’t play together.
“At times we played selfish. At time, though, we’re a little more far apart from each other,” he said. “But that’s behind us.”
Four players had double-digit points in the win over Bishop Gorman, and one of the most telling plays of the team came late.
Harmon had consistently been double-teamed; basically triple-teamed, he said, with a third man lurking “like a middle linebacker in football spying on the QB.” Four-star small forward Jalen Wilson, an adept ball handler, had the ball on the right hand side.
He found three-star Jakobe Coles for a 3-point shot. The 6-foot-7 power forward sunk it with a smooth release.
“A lot of teams, especially this year, they’re doubling me,” Harmon said. “I have great guys around me that can take the initiative, dribble it, give it to other guys on the floor.
“When they try to take me out, that’s on (the defenders).”